After filling my 1983 Dodge truck with gas, I completed my routine of buying the USA Today newspaper. I had no intention of reading the paper at that time, after all it was already 10:30 and I was expected at the peach depot by noon, but by buying it now I would have it when I stopped for lunch or supper later. Eventually, after reaching my destination on time, loading the peaches, and heading back north, I did stop for lunch and I did read the paper.
Most of the news of the day was of no interest to me, but as I leafed through, passing over the “national news”, “business”, and “sports” sections, something caught my eye in the “living” section. There on the page that listed the new releases on DVD was a review of a movie I thought I would enjoy. It was a documentary about the rivalry between boxers Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali. It was entitled “Thrilla in Manila”, named I presume after their third and final fight. What piqued my interest was the indication that the film focused on Joe Frazier. I finished my sandwich, made a mental note of the release date, tossed the newspaper into the can with the rest of my trash, and headed back to the truck.
As the release date of the movie approached, its unavailability at the local Blockbuster led me to order my own copy directly from Amazon. On the day of its arrival in the mail, I decided that I would start to watch it that night. In the same way that there are books you can’t put down, “Thrilla in Manila” was a movie I could not stop watching. Even though I was thoroughly tired from a long day of physical labor in my farm fields and should have turned in at my usual bedtime, I stayed locked on this story and its real life characters. Although I thought of myself as a big fan of the 1970’s boxing era, the Joe Frazier/Muhammad Ali rivalry was much more dramatic, much more compelling, much more captivating than I ever imagined… and the saga included several fascinating characters I was barely aware of.
One such person in the film was Marvis Frazier. Marvis, the son of Smokin’ Joe, held a ring side seat at the career of his father, especially during the Frazier/Ali fight trilogy when Marvis was a teenager. Marvis even had a fine boxing career of his own. This much about Marvis Frazier I knew or surmised. What I did not know about Marvis is a course regarding the human heart that could fill an entire book.
Midway through the movie, Marvis tells the story of witnessing the end of his father’s undefeated streak at the hands of George Foreman. Hearing his emotional revelation that this was the first time he realized that “My Dad was human just like any other man”, had me fighting to keep my own emotions in check. Near the end of the DVD, when Marvis described his Dad’s wonderfully supportive reaction to his own heartbreaking loss during a shot at the title against Champion Larry Holmes, I was wiping tears from my own eyes as Marvis was there on the screen wiping them from his.
A few weeks later when through a series of remarkable events, my daughter and I were on our way to meet the Fraziers in Philadelphia, I was as excited to meet Marvis Frazier as I was to meet his world famous father.
Since that fateful first watching of the documentary; a handshake, a face to face conversation, and numerous phone calls have only served to reinforce my writer’s intuition that Marvis Frazier has a story to be told and that I am the one who should tell it.
Why you, Marvis Frazier? Son of the great Smokin’ Joe Frazier, excellent boxer in your own right, preacher of the gospel, man who has many stories to tell. Why me, Jamie Potter? Small business owner, jack-of-all-trades, full time farmer, part time writer. Because, Marvis, after all that has happened in such a short period of time, I believe, maybe, destiny wants it that way.
Jamie Potter November, 2009
PS. This essay/short story was written one week before Marvis and I got together to discuss the writing of the book about his life and was presented to him at that meeting.